Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the design of instructional materials and activities that allow learning goals to be achieved by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to see, hear, speak, move, read, write, understand English, attend, organize, engage, and remember (Ivy Access Initiative, Brown University)
The essential qualities of UDL include valuing each learner’s unique perspectives and accommodating individual differences in learners’ backgrounds, interests, abilities, and experiences.
The cardinal rule of UDL is that there is no single method for representing information that will provide equal access for all students; no single method of expression that will provide equal opportunity for all students; no single way to ensure that all students are engaged in learning because any method that works for some students may present barriers to learning for others (ERIC/ OSEP, 1998; as cited by Mino , 2004). Accordingly Universal Instructional Design emphasize flexibility in curriculum and instruction.
This information on this page is excerpted from a report compiled by the Universal Design for Learning subcommittee of the University Access Advisory Committee.
Download the full report [pdf]
There are general principles that guide UDL in and outside of the classroom. Most of the principles identified at various post-secondary institutions are simply good teaching pedagogy. Below is a list of principles compiled by Ohio State University:
- Identify the essential course content.
- Clearly express the essential content.
- Integrate natural supports for learning (i.e. using resources already found in the environment such as study buddies).
- Use a variety of instructional methods when presenting material.
- Allow for multiple methods of demonstrating understanding of essential course content.
- Use technology to increase accessibility.
- Invite students to meet/contact the course instructor with any questions/concerns (Fast Facts for Faculty, Ohio State University)
Best Practices in UDL
Most universities favour three best practices in UDL:
A variety of methods are used to present course content (e.g. lecture, web, text, audio) (Fast Facts for Faculty, Ohio State University).
A variety of teaching methods are used to capture the student’s attention (discussions, reflections, individual projects, etc).
The instructor allows students to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways and is flexible for students who have barriers in expression (e.g. oral presentations for those with reading disabilities) (Fast Facts for Faculty, Ohio State University).
The following recommendations were developed based on our review of higher education institutions in Canada and the United States, a literature review, and stakeholder surveys.
The course syllabus should be considered a document that students rely on to plan for their upcoming year. A course syllabus should contain course goals, course description, course objectives, learning outcomes, instructor contact information, accommodation statements, assessment strategies, policies on missed classes and late assignments, weights of assessed material, due dates, schedule of class topics, associated readings and activities by date, a list of student resources (e.g. Writing Centre, Math Assistance Centre, Access Centre, Centre for Student Development and Counselling, etc).
Based on the principles outlined above, faculty should use a variety of teaching methods, use natural supports, and encourage student engagement through face-to-face interaction and technology.
- Identify course objectives and learning outcomes in their individual courses
- Course expectations should be explicit and delivered in multiple formats (e.g. verbally, on the course outline, on the course web page)
- Use multiple means of presenting material in class, including, where appropriate, lecturing, activities (e.g. demonstrations, laboratories, group projects, case studies), video, technology, etc.
- Present single concepts in more than one way (e.g. a demonstration followed by a lecture explaining relevant concepts)
- If using presentation technology, faculty should be sure slides are easy to read (i.e. large font, not too text-heavy).
- Encourage natural supports within their class (e.g. peer-to-peer mentoring, use of office hours, teaching assistants, study groups, opportunities for questions, etc.)
- Encourage faculty-student engagement (e.g. use of office hours, email, web postings, discussion boards, etc.).
- Use technology to enhance learning (e.g. clickers, Google drive, web 2.0, etc.).
- Consider posting notes for difficult concepts, or a providing a simplified version of the slides used in class.
- When lecturing, moderate language, replacing terms such as “this or that” with specific descriptions.
- Encourage student participation in multiple ways (e.g. questions, small groups, pairing students, discussions, etc.).
- Consider creating guided notes (notes where some material is left off) that students can use during lecture. *
- Update course material annually, keeping the course relevant and current.
- Repeat important concepts and provide additional examples of these concepts.
- Relate important course concepts to real life through the use of news stories, personal stories, research stories, and case studies.
- Assist students, especially junior students, in learning study techniques, writing, and numeracy
- If planning to provide materials to students, do so before the class day so students may print or use them as a guide during lecture.
- Review the previous day’s content at the beginning of class and allow students to ask questions, and summarize important points at the end of each class.
- Give students a short break part way through class.
- Allow students to record lectures or use note takers.
- Repeat student questions before answering.
- When lecturing, ensure that all students can see and hear them, as well as see the PowerPoint or board.
- Submit videos to the Ryerson Library for captioning services well in advance of needing them for class
- Allow students to ask questions without raising their hand.
- Provide verbal explanations for PowerPoint slides, material on the board, and any graphs or charts used in class.
- If distributing printed materials (e.g. tests), provide printed materials in black and white
- Consider using a textbook that is available electronically as well as in print editions (offering it in larger print)
- In laboratories, be aware of any student in need of accommodations. Ensure that all chemicals and equipment are clearly labeled.
Student resources include those for accommodation and those provided by Student Services.
- Work with the Access Centre to determine, identify, and implement resources that can assist students with accommodations inside and outside of class.
- Highlight on-campus student services that would assist all students in learning (e.g. English Language Support, Library, Writing Centre, Math Assistance Centre, Health Centre, etc).
- Encourage (where appropriate) students to bring copies of assignments when using supports (e.g. Writing Centre, Math Assistance, Library research skills workshops).
- Recognize and support student self-advocacy.
The gold standard for Universal Design and student assessments is diversity, choice and flexibility. Professors should note that while it is important that assessments be “fair,” this does not mean that assessments must be “the same.” Assessments should be designed according to these principles. With these principles in mind, here are some recommendations for instructing professors about including Universal Design in their assessments.
- Learning assessments should reflect the course goals and should be designed in a backwards manner: Backward design begins by developing course objectives and then outlining appropriate means of assessing whether these objectives have been met by students in a way that reflects the course goals.
- Assessment should be flexible: Assessment should use a combination of modes of expression (e.g. writing, speaking, drawing, making, presenting) to demonstrate the learning of course content. Choice and variety in demonstrating mastery of necessary course skills and content is key. For example, some students might not do as well at timed tests and would do better if offered take-home tests. In contrast, other students might have difficulties with take-home tests (e.g. due to family responsibilities) and would do better with timed tests. Allowing students a choice of assessment method can help meet their individual requirements. In addition, consider that there might be a number of ways to demonstrate mastery of the course material. Offering multiple methods of assessment (even if students are not given a choice of assessment) will assist students in demonstrating knowledge.
- Deadlines should be flexible: Some students with disabilities will experience good weeks and bad weeks, and these cannot always be predicted in advance. Avoid deadlines that are too harsh (e.g. if not handed in on time the student gets a zero). Instead allow for negotiation.
- Assignments should give opportunities for feedback: It is helpful to give students feedback throughout the process of completing longer assignments. Consider having parts of these assignments due at different stages and provide feedback along the way.
- The Access Centre can be an invaluable resource: If professors are unsure about whether their assessment methods are fair and accessible, the Access Centre can help ensure that tests are accessible to diverse student needs (e.g. online tests can be read by electronic readers, graphs can be translated by readers for visually impaired students, etc.). In addition, faculty should consult with the Access Centre if concerned about individual accommodations.
Faculty will likely need resources and assistance to perform many of the following requirements. However, below are issues that will need to be addressed for faculty. It should be clear that these issues need to be considered but may not necessarily be the responsibility of individual faculty. For example, faculty should have alt tags and captioning for their materials but may not be responsible for creating these alt tags or captioning.
Course web pages should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and work with current and future technologies (W3C, 2004).
- Perceivable: Images, charts and graphs should be alt tagged with helpful descriptions, high contrast text and backgrounds should be used (e.g. black on white), captions and audio transcripts should be provided for audio and video clips, and color alone should not be used to convey meaning.
- Operable: Links and buttons should be accessible through tabbing from the keyboard, a method to skip navigation should be provided so users go directly to a content page, and multimedia players should be operable with the keyboard as well as with the mouse.
- Understandable: Links are descriptive and pages are structured with headings, tables include a header, and the pages read in the expected order.
- Robust: The website (including PDFs and documents) can be read with a variety of browsers and assistive technology (University of Arkansas).
To implement the principles of universal design in online learning, it is recommended that faculty and instructors plan for the diverse range of students that enroll in online courses. The planning should include tools and strategies to enhance the accessibility and usability of the course for students with and without disabilities.
All the UDL principles applied in the face-to-face classroom may be applied online with particular emphasis on the following:
- Communication should be based on inclusive language, with clear expectations (e.g. model and teach good discussion board etiquette).
- At the beginning of any online course, welcome all students and provide basic navigational and course management information and advice
- Ensure that your course page has consistent navigation and simple design. Student should be able to locate materials and content easily through the learning management system. In addition students should find standard course structure across various courses.
- Use accessible technology within the learning management system or when asking students to use social media or external web tools (wikis, blogs, etc.).
- Follow best practices for accessible web pages, documents, and multimedia components:
- Ensure that captions and transcripts are available for audio-visual material, convert PowerPoint presentations to accessible HTML content.
- Make auditory materials visual and the visual materials auditory.
- Provide students with accessible downloads for necessary plugins, example: Adobe Flash or Adobe Reader.
- Use clear formatting: backgrounds, color, links, fonts.
- Utilize accessible technologies and provide guidance on how to obtain specific accessibility related accommodations.
- Online courses should be designed to facilitate readability and minimize distractions.
- Online courses should be designed to accommodate the use of assistive technologies such as screen readers, magnifiers, etc.
- Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology : DO-IT Project
University of Washington.
This Universal Design project aim to "increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs and careers. It promotes the use of computer and networking technologies to increase independence, productivity, and participation in education and employment." Their page on Universal Design includes several helpful resources:
- Universal Instructional Design at the University of Guelph
Teaching Support Services. University of Guelph.
Includes an implementation guide [pdf] for faculty, a quick-start checklist, tip sheets, posters, other resources for higher education.
- Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)
"CAST is a nonprofit research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning."
- Incorporating Universal Instructional Design into Your Course Syllabus [pdf]
Developed by Jaellayna Palmer. University Instructional Design. University of Guelph. 2002.
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL) [video]
MERLOT ELIXR: Sharing Faculty Stories About Exemplary Teaching
"Eight case stories highlight how faculty are reaching more students through diversity in teaching approaches."
- Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning
By David H. Rose & Anne Meyer with Nicole Strangman and Gabrielle Rappolt. 2002.
- Incorporating Universal Instructional Design Principles into your Course Design [mp3]
Presented by Dr. Donald Leslie and Mr. Anthony Gomez. University of Windsor. 2006.
- Universal Design for Instruction Fact Sheet [pdf]
By S. Scott, J.M. McGuire, and P. Embry. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disabilities. University of Connecticut. 2002.
Answers to frequently asked questions about the history and goals of UID.
- University Design for Learning: Elements of Good Teaching - Fast Facts for Faculty [pdf]
The Ohio State University Partnership Grant, Improving the Quality of Education for Students with Disabilities. Ohio State University.
- Universal Design: 17 Ways of Thinking and Teaching. Edited by Jon Christophersen. [Oslo]: Husbanken. 2002.
(Available at Ryerson Library, Call No.: NA2545.A1 U548 2002)
- The Universally Designed Classroom: Accessible Curriculum and Digital Technologies. Edited by Davi. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press. 2005.
(Available at Ryerson Library, Call No.: LC1201 .U55 2005)
Universal Instructional Design for People with Disabilities
For more information on making classroom technology accessible, see the Information Technology section of the LTO's page on Disability Awareness.
- Curriculum Transformation and Disability: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education
Edited by Jeanne L. Higbee. University of Minnesota. 2003.
- Universal Instructional Design: Creating an Accessible Curriculum [pdf]
AccessAbility Services. Teaching and Learning Services. University of Toronto at Scarborough. 2004.
- PASS-IT: Pedagogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation - Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education [pdf]
Edited by Jeanne L. Higbee and Emily Goff. University of Minnesota. 2008.
- Faculty Development and Universal Instructional Design [pdf]
By Mathew L. Ouellett. Equity & Excellence in Education. Vol. 37: 135-144. 2004.
"Centers for teaching and instructional development offer consultation services and resources for faculty members and graduate teaching assistants designed to promote excellence in undergraduate teaching. This article considers how such efforts may better address the needs of students with disabilities enrolled in post secondary education by exploring the intersections of instructional development models.